Saturday, April 16, 2011

Kindle: first and second impressions

I finally got around to ordering a Kindle last weekend; it arrived yesterday and I've been playing with it compulsively, mostly downloading free stuff (the most awesome thing about the kindle is all the free pre-1900 ebooks). Today my inbox looks like this:

I had resisted the idea of getting a Kindle because: (1) I'm by nature a late adopter, I like letting other people find the bugs. (2) Anything sufficiently technical or obscure (including all physics monographs and most contemporary poetry, even Heaney) is unavailable on the Kindle; the Kindle store is in some ways more like Borders than like Amazon. (3) Most of my reading comes from the university library anyway. (4) There is something unappealing [straight face] about taking electrical appliances to bed.[/straight face] However, (a) the Kindle is really cheap now and I had some gift certificate money just sitting in my Amazon account; (b) I travel a fair bit and always pick the most inappropriate in-flight reading, and besides my laptop has terrible battery life and is worthless as a portable pdf reader; (c) one sometimes needs instant gratification!

A few impressions:

1. The size of the thing is a little odd, too large for one's pockets but it feels a little daft to use one's backpack to cart it around. It is probably just the right size for a certain species of women's handbag but there is no unisex/male equivalent. (Maybe the Paris Review stoat bag?) So far I have been using a plastic bag from the college bookstore. Perhaps the larger-screen v. is more sensible, though as I said on twitter, buyer's remorse is the most enduring human emotion after Schadenfreude.

2. Screen size aside, the display is great. To test this I read an entire book -- Bertrand Russell's account of his visit to the USSR ca. 1920 -- in one go; it was pretty gentle on the eyes. The device -- at least the small v. -- is light enough to be comfortable to read in bed, and is perhaps easier to read one-handed than a book.

3. Elif Batuman's article on buying books drunk is an excellent user's guide to the Kindle. (See also here; the link is to Grobstein's new tumblr.) I did in fact end up downloading The Anatomy of Melancholy and Fanny Hill and a myriad free samples. The Kindle is basically worth the price as a delivery mechanism for Project Gutenberg texts, if one is into that kind of thing.

4. The poetry selection is dismal, and a lot of the free poetry e-texts are missing linebreaks. It is perhaps worthwhile to pony up the 99 cents for a cleaned-up text should one exist... For instance, I found a nice text of Pound that has the Sextus Propertius versions -- really my favorite thing of his -- formatted as in print versions. (I also downloaded a Latin text of Propertius, which was of course without linebreaks. Which is fitting as so were the Latin texts.)

5. It is much better to shop on one's laptop than on the Kindle.

6. As a pdf reader the Kindle leaves much to be desired. The basic problem is that the screen is too small for letter-sized documents and scrolling is primitive, you seem to only be able to move one entire screen in any direction, which is exasperating. For all-text pdfs I believe the "convert to Kindle" feature works OK but for the physics literature it emphatically does not. It is unfortunate that you can't zoom except in 50% increments, so there's no obvious way to optimize the magnification and you always have to reckon with unnecessary whitespace or a truncated page. For Phys. Rev. or Nature a tolerable solution is to turn the page sideways and increase the contrast.

6'. Another thing to note is that the Kindle is slow qua computer, and has a lot of trouble w/ pdfs w/ large images.

7. Some things I've been meaning to read for a while and that I downloaded last night (all free): Edmund Gosse's Father and Son, Daniel Deronda, Nicholas Nickleby, Education Sentimentale, Tacitus's Histories, Coleridge's Biographia Literaria.

Addendum 8. The Kindle now has an experimental web browser; it is really about as good as one can expect of what is a Firefox clone, given that the Kindle technology doesn't allow rapid page refreshing.


zbs said...

Sounds pretty dismal for all that

Zed said...

Well it depends on what one wants out of the "reading experience." (And on the relative importance of the pdf reader aspect...) I am programmatically in favor of things like, e.g., drinking expensive wine out of Dixie cups, and reading certain books on the Kindle is sorta similar.

zbs said...

The ideal wine glass is one of those little juice tumblers.

Zed said...

There is also something to be said for beer steins as wine receptacles.